Did you ever hear the one about the parish priest and the Jew? Gotcha – there’s no punchline..
Simon (simonmarsh.org) is a parish priest in NW England. I’m – well you know me by now. We’ve never met, and yet I can assure you he is as much a part of my heart as any beloved friend. I don’t remember what prompted us to start emailing each other, but shortly after we did, Simon became ill. His voice was failing him, a diagnosis proved elusive and his fatigue was almost taunting him. I fretted – asking all these questions that you would expect – was he able to eat? Had he tried chicken soup? Was he getting enough rest? How was the quality of the medical care? He would respond when he was able – without complaint. His tiredness was teaching him patience, he wrote, his hoarseness provided him time to listen to silence. He was most frustrated that his responsibilities to his parish were being compromised. And he worried about his wife Jilly. Simon apologized for not writing more, reassuring me through this ordeal. Thanking me for being a worried Jewish mom across the pond (forget that we are close in age, I’ve always had a strong maternal streak).
Simon has improved, his posts are more frequent and I can’t begin to suggest that I understand all that he writes. What I feel though is palpable – the love of his religion, the celebration of family, the delight in a flower’s budding. I suppose one can argue that at core, this is what spirituality is predicated upon in its purest sense, and when I read his words from that perspective, I rejoice.
Simon sent an email over the weekend to some of his friends. It is no exaggeration when I write that I get a visceral reaction whenever I see his name in my inbox. My friend – he is well, he is in my orbit and I am grateful. We hope to meet one day – sitting in some coffee shop somewhere. Perhaps Andy and I will return to England one day; maybe Simon and Jilly will visit the States. Who knows what fate has in store. But there was a reason that Simon came into my life – he has taught me that the heart can hold an unimagineable amount of love, that there are people in the world who see us as far, far better than we really are and that perception impels us to try and fit that image. Simon makes me a better Mimi. Because he is convinced that I already am. What do I offer in return? I have no idea – for whatever it is, it pales in comparison.
Simon and Jilly are off on holiday. He will likely not even read this anytime soon, but that’s ok. I wrote this more for me than for him, a meager attempt at acknowledging the power of a friendship that came from the universe and travels with continued enthusiasm across the pond.
Recently Simon posted Mary Oliver‘s “Wild Geese” and though it came from a different place in his thoughts, it is offered here for him. For Simon, my friend.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.